Teaching Tech to Elders: Our Ultimate Easy Guide!

Introducing senior citizens to modern technology opens up a world of opportunity and connection for them. The task itself can be time-consuming and difficult but the result is worthwhile.

Follow our handy tips and tricks below to make their learning experience as easy as possible:

Write That Down: Document every single step. Every click, every link, all usernames, passwords and website addresses. Everything required to get the computer running, how to log in, how to log on, how to search or post, and how to turn the computer off when finished using. Leave no detail out!

Overexplain: When explaining technology, remember your understanding of the device, and the internet, is likely very different to seniors. You will need to start from the very beginning. They may be unfamiliar with basics you don’t think twice about, such as turning the device on or off, unlocking it with a passcode, understanding the purpose of screensavers, remembering passwords, opening webpages, the difference between a desktop and a webpage, how to react to annoying pop-up ads etc. When writing down or explaining, pretend you are also using the internet for the first time, it will naturally make your instructions more detailed. If you feel like you’re overexplaining, you’re doing it right!

Shortcuts: Set the browser’s homepage to Google Australia, install pop-up blockers and virus protections, disable automatic startups for programs your loved one won’t use, set browsers to remember passwords automatically and increase the browser’s overall volume and font size. Wherever a shortcut can be provided to make use of technology easier, help seniors out in advance before introducing them to the device.

Meaning: Describe the reason behind everything someone does to make a computer work for them. For example: “Google is like a library where you can find information on any topic. Clicking on a link is like choosing which book you want to read”. This will help them understand why we use electronic devices the way we do.

Make Comparisons: Think about the devices seniors have grown accustomed to in their lifetime; television, radio, electric cooking devices, digital clocks etc, and use this knowledge to explain via comparison. For example, “a computer needs to be turned on same way a television does before you can use it, here is the start-up button” or “A mouse and keyboard are like your “remote controls” that tell the computer what you want it to do, so you will need to guide the mouse over to the link you want to open, then press this button to click”. Show AND tell is very important.

Combating Key Words: Google’s search engine automatically ignores commonplace words like “can” “and” or “my”. If your loved one types their search like a question (“Can you please find dessert recipes, thank you”), it will only display results matching “recipe” and “dessert”. Which may still retrieve suitable results, but may also, for example, present American results. A more effective search would be “Australian dessert recipe”. Teach your loved one to stick to brief prompts based on unique words, and advise them to put “aus” or “Australia” at the end of their search.

Getting Started Online:

  • If creating a social media account for a senior, consider which platform their family and friends primarily use, and keep to just the one. Too many accounts can be overwhelming.
  • Set their social media to private. Explain the concept of “friends/followers”, and that, even with the account set to private, all posts/comments will be visible to anyone permitted to follow their account.
  • Remind them not to give out banking details or personal information to strangers. Explain they are not obligated to respond to anything sent to them if they are unfamiliar with the sender or confused about what’s being asked of them. If they are unsure, they should wait until your next visit so you can check if it’s safe.
  • A brief explanation of the meaning behind “online/offline”, “busy/away”, “lol” “brb”, “fyi” and “gtg” will be helpful for navigating online conversations.
  • Explain emojis as a way of establishing or “softening” tone of voice in text 😊
  • Show where text goes in comment boxes, emails, email subject headings, and search bars.
  • Remind younger relatives to avoid slang or shortened terms when talking online to elders to avoid confusion.
  • Explain junk or spam emails as the electronic version of junk mail/unsolicited telemarketer calls.
  • If they express interest in online shopping, help them with the process. After making the purchase, unsubscribe their email from the company mailing list.
  • Seniors often confuse Facebook’s search bar or comment sections with the Google search engine. Explain the differences of each platform. For example, “Each webpage is different. Facebook’s search bar will only search within Facebook. You will need to go to the Google webpage for more general topics”.
  • There is an unfortunate recent trend of online conspiracy theorist groups preying upon seniors not recognising or understanding false claims made online. These groups often disguise themselves using patriotism, solidarity and “us vs them” type messaging.  A helpful website for navigating fake news or conspiracies is Snopes.com. If your loved one is increasingly mentioning outlandish claims they’ve seen on Facebook, you could visit the Snopes website together and see what news has recently been debunked (while learning about just how much nonsense is posted online as fact every day!)

Other Helpful Tips:

  • Slow down! Don’t move to the next instruction until your loved one fully understands what you just explained.
  • Seniors will likely read webpages left to right, top to bottom, like a newspaper, despite most websites placing their main content in the middle. Explain to them that most sidebar information is irrelevant to what they’ve searched for and is generally just there just to advertise or keep them on the website longer. Show them how to close webpages when finished looking at them to avoid 100 tabs being left open!
  • Help your loved one learn visually by having them watch as you navigate the computer or a smartphone.
  • Many phones and computers now have accessibility settings to accommodate various issues like vision or hearing impairment.
  • Passwords should be easy, but not too easy. Combine street names with birth dates or pet/child names.
  • When you visit your loved one, check their devices settings for any new software updates.
  • Be patient! Becoming irritated will discourage further learning and questions. If a senior is stubborn about learning new things, having them watch you may be the easiest option, as well as providing detailed instructions if they should decide to give it a go in their own time.